Sample from the Summer 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine
An Interview with Ram Dass
Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert, Ph.D.) first went to India in 1967 and met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, affectionately known as Maharajji. Everything changed then—his intense dharmic life started, and he became a pivotal influence on a culture that has reverberated with the words “Be Here Now” ever since. On February 19th 1997, Ram Dass suffered a near-fatal stroke, which left the right side of his body paralyzed and led to other challenging ailments. He discusses his relationship with his Guru and the stroke that he came to see as “fierce grace.” Ram Dass’s spirit has been a guiding light for three generations, carrying along millions on their spiritual journey, helping free them from their bonds
Integral Yoga Magazine: You gave many of us our first introduction to what the Guru-disciple relationship was. You were one of the first Westerners to speak about having a Guru. Was it hard to be a trailblazer in that sense?
Ram Das: My Guru was a Maha-Guru. He was not of any lineage, and he was really a Guru to residents of his village. Most people treated him as a grandfather, a miracle maker. They would come to him with their wants, and we Westerners came to him looking for spiritual advancement. When I came back from India, I found myself in a peculiar position. I had a Guru and I was lecturing to people who didn’t have a Guru and who didn’t know where to get one! It felt a bit like I was saying to them, “I have one and you don’t have one.”
IYM: Was it hard for you to make sense of the whole concept of Guru?
RD: I was a Buddhist at the time I was introduced to my Guru by Bhagavan Das (Maharajji was his Guru). When I first met Maharajji, I was very suspicious and I was not open. He then proceeded to soften me, and he first quieted my mind by reading my mind. He revealed that he knew that, the previous night, I had been thinking about my mother. That was so mind boggling that I was fascinated. I thought of all the things I wouldn’t want another person to know because they wouldn’t love me. I realized that he was reading everything in my mind and that he knew everything about me. Yet, there he was, a foot away from me, and when I looked up into his eyes, I saw he was looking at me with unconditional love. When he did that, it really blew me away. That was the changing point.
IYM: What did you do then?
RD: I realized that that unconditional love changed me and so, I couldn’t go anywhere! I hadn’t planned to stay long, but I stayed with him for six months that time. His love got to me. I’m thought: My Guru is a human being. I met a human being who expressed unconditional love, who possessed siddhis [psychic powers] and all these things. It stretched me and my concept of what a human being could be. There is a fire that was sparked inside all of us because of our Gurus and the relationship we had with our Gurus. Just knowing these people has affected each of us in different ways. Our lives were changed because of those relationships. You should feel compassion for people who don’t have such a relationship.
IYM: What did you learn from him while you were in India?
RD: There was something so matter of fact about him. He got involved in your daily life. For example, if I had a fight with somebody, he’d be there digging into my anger. He gave teachings but, more in the sense of what Gandhi said, when he said, “My life is my message.” That was also really true of Maharajji. His life was his message; he gave no lectures. He called me over, and I’d say, “Yes Maharajji?” And he said, “Love everybody.” And I said, “Well, that’s a tall order.” Then he said, “Well, just love everybody.” Then another day, he told me, “Ram Dass, I want you to speak truth.” Those are instructions from your Guru. There’s nothing more wonderful than carrying out something your Guru tells you to do.
Read the rest of this article in the Summer 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.